|Illustration by André Carrilh|
The biggest issue for an openly gay pro athlete would not be the “Neanderthals”: It would be the Evangelical Christians. Particularly the African-American ones. When Will Sheridan, a former basketball player at Villanova, came out in May, he said that because religion generally plays such a central role in African-American culture, many African-American players reject homosexuality simply because the church says they should. A poll earlier this year showed that 60 percent of African-American Baptists oppose gay marriage.
It’s not even just players: Tony Dungy, the former Colts coach who is now a commentator for NBC and an adviser to several players, has openly embraced a ban on gay marriage. “I think that religion has become a socially acceptable way to be a homophobe” [Gay Games Ambassador] Amaechi says. “I think religion has far surpassed those notions of masculinity and jock culture as the single most homophobic aspect of sports. Do I think without the religious aspect sports would move more quickly and naturally along like the rest of the culture? Yes.”
Still: An openly gay athlete is an inevitability, and his coming out may not be so difficult after all. “I can’t imagine a player being treated the way Jackie Robinson or Bill Russell was,” says Jared Max, the ESPN Radio New York morning sports personality, who came out on the air in the wake of Barkley’s comments. “I don’t think that that’s going to go on now.” So who will it be? Max thinks it’ll have to be a superstar. “It’ll have to be an All-Star,” he says. “Someone with status. Someone whose teammates will be like, ‘As long as he wins.’ ”
Buzinski agrees, but notes that in many ways, once the player comes out, he will be so embraced—not just by the sports media, but by the larger culture (it is not difficult to see the first openly gay pro athlete landing on the cover of Time magazine) that it will become difficult for a player’s team to cut or trade him. This is a funny idea. It sounds like the premise of a bad sports comedy, in which a straight player must pretend to be gay to keep his job.
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